Education: Bullied? May the force be with you: Jules Lee visits a centre where victims learn to toughen up

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AS A last resort, the instructor encourages 11-year-old Simon to punch her nose. 'You've got to think of sending your attacker to the moon - because they deserve it.'

If a bully gets the upper hand, Simon can call on several self-defence techniques. Hopefully, however, he will no longer present himself as prey.

At the Life Force Arts Centre in Golders Green, north London, children step into an exotic world of piped Shinto music and trickling fountains, for lessons on how to cope mentally and physically with bullying. On the blackboard are written the words 'Self-confidence', 'Feeling good about yourself', 'How are you strong?' and 'What do you do well?' Eight children, aged from five to 12, sit on an Oriental rug as Khaleghl Quinn, their teacher, endeavours to raise their self-esteem and equip them with the confidence to combat bullying.

Dr Quinn has been teaching these arts for more than 10 years. In 1983 she presented a Channel 4 series for women, entitled Stand Your Ground; now she is applying the same self-awareness approach to children.

Each child is asked what activity they excel in; for example, swimming, painting, cycling or running. 'If someone gives you a hard time, just remember that they can't take that away from you,' Dr Quinn tells them.

The children ask her to go through the 'escaping' techniques. Acting out the scenario of being harassed, the pupils employ 'Fire' - rounding on the aggressor with a burning stare in their eyes, while waving their arms frantically - and 'Earth', a method of standing your ground, refusing to be dragged away. Each exercise is punctuated by Dr Quinn's quiet but authoritative tones: 'Stay calm, concentrate, remember that they have no right to do this to you.'

The children throw themselves into the exercises eagerly; learning how to disarm a knife-wielding attacker, or breaking away from a group using the 'washing machine' technique - locking their attacker's arms together and wriggling away.

Francis Moran, head teacher of the nearby King Alfred School, has found that the method works: 'Nowadays we know about the psychological side. There are books, videos and role-playing in schools, but what they need is to be able to empower themselves,' he says.

Dr Quinn stresses that children do not have to be like Bruce Lee to defend themselves. Her formula is a balanced blend of martial arts, philosophy, psychology and her own experience. The verbal and physical torment she suffered, as the only black child at school in her native Texas, galvanised her into becoming a Doctor of Philosophy and Psychology, and the youngest-ever woman black belt at 19.

Judy Hargreaves, a child psychotherapist, has been sending 'victims' to Dr Quinn for one-on-one lessons for 10 years, and welcomes the group courses. 'It helps them to read other people's body language and to re-organise themselves to deal with aggression and their fear of it,' she says.

In practice, each child has his or her own method of dealing with abuse. Jodie, 12, teased for being half- American and short, points out: 'I just imagine there is a shield around me; that no words can get through and hurt me. It's about body language. If you act vulnerable, then you are asking for it - like having 'pick on me' written all over your face.'

For Sarah, 11, who used to hang her head to hide her glasses, school is no longer a problem: 'I've got a toolkit that I can use for any situation.'

The Khaleghl Quinn Life Force Arts Centre, 2 West Heath Drive, London NW11 7QH (081-455 8698).

(Photograph omitted)